In July 2020, the Government published ‘The UK’s Points-Based Immigration System Further Details’. Although, there are no major surprises to note as the policy builds on the statement published earlier this year, the further detail and clarifications on the upcoming new immigration system have been long awaited. The final details for the new points-based immigration system are to be confirmed later this year, with most of the new routes to be opened by January 2021.
In the meantime, non-EU nationals may come to the UK using the current system, whereas EU nationals can rely on freedom of movement under the transition arrangements due to end on 31 December 2020. Any applicants eligible to apply under the EU Settlement Scheme will have to do so by 30 June 2021.
The underpinning principle of the new system is to treat all nationalities equally under one global immigration system, with a small exception of the Common Travel Area (which allows Irish citizens to work in the UK without the need to obtain permission) being maintained.
The Government also pledges to make the new system more streamlined, technologically advanced and simplified with the governing rules much easier to understand and follow. It also confirms the Government’s commitment to grow the online right to work check services, which is good news for employers as it eases the administrative burden of having to conduct a manual check on the physical document.
The statement is very comprehensive and touches on many aspects of the upcoming points-based immigration system, but the main points are as follows:
As set out in our earlier update, the main route to obtaining permission to work will be the Skilled Worker category, which replaces the Tier 2 General.
The new system will continue to make use of the sponsorship arrangement where the company is principally responsible for the oversight of migrant workers. Existing Tier 2 (General) and Tier 2 (Intra-company Transfer) sponsor licences will be automatically converted into a new Skilled Worker or Intra-Company Transfer licences accordingly with their current expiry dates. It is pledged that applications under the new points-based immigration system will be available before the end of the transitional period.
Notably, the Resident Labour Market Test is being abolished, which is welcome news to many sponsors. There will be no cap on the migrants coming to the UK under the Skilled Worker route. Both of these changes will significantly expedite the hiring process.
The new category resembles largely the current Tier 2 General, but adds some flexibility over achieving points. The so called ‘mandatory’ criteria amounting to 50 points are as follows:
- A job offer from a licensed sponsor;
- The job must be at skill level RQF3 as the minimum (A-level or equivalent, which is lower than the current requirement);
- The applicant must have an acceptable knowledge of the English language.
In addition to the 50 points gained through the mandatory criteria, any applicant will need to gather a further 20 so called ‘tradeable’ points. These additional points can be gained through a combination of points for the salary, a job being on a shortage occupation list, or the applicant having a PhD relevant to the job.
As always, the devil will be in the detail, but generally speaking, meeting the general salary threshold of £25,600 or the ‘going rate’ whichever higher (similarly to the current system applying the Standard Occupational Classification (SOC) code minimum thresholds) will earn the applicant 20 points. There is an option to qualify with a lower salary (but not below £20,480) as long the additional points can be earned for a job being on a shortage occupation list or by holding an academic PhD relevant to the job. The latter, however, will only apply to some occupations; the list of which will be kept under review.
The general concession to earn lower salary for new entrants has also been retained. PAYE records will be checked on a regular basis to ensure that sponsored migrants are paid at the correct rate.
There will also be a concession for 24 health/education public service occupations which will have national pay scales used in order to define the going rate, with a minimum salary of £20,480 without any need to trade points.
The Government reserves the right to add to the list of attributes scoring tradeable points, in order for the category to keep aligning with the needs of the economy.
Many other features of the current system also remain, such as the ability to certify maintenance for a sponsored worker or various charges applicable, such as Immigration Skills Charge and Immigration Health Surcharge.
The Health and Care visa
The Health and Care visa, to be launched on 4 August, will be part of the Skilled Worker route and is designed to attract those in the eligible health occupations in health, social care and companies providing services to the NHS to come to the UK. Those eligible will be able to benefit from fast-track processing, reduced application fees and exemption from Immigration Health Surcharge.
The statement confirms the return of a post-graduate route, which used to be very popular. Under the new route, graduates from undergraduate and master’s courses will be allowed to stay in the UK for two years. Those completing PhD studies will be allowed to stay for three years. There is no need for a sponsor and the successful applicants will be able to look for work or accept work regardless of a skill level.
Intra-company transfers and intra-company graduate trainees
These categories will largely remain the same with the minimum skill level for the role remaining at RQF6. The route will continue not to lead to settlement but the current ‘cooling off’ provisions are to be reviewed to allow for more flexibility in moving workforce between the company subsidiaries overseas and the UK.
Highly skilled workers
The policy statement announces the intention to create a ‘broader unsponsored route within the Points Based System to run alongside the employer-led system’. This category (perhaps resembling the past Tier 1 General?) is to be created at a later date and the route is likely to be capped to limit the numbers.
UK ancestry and youth mobility
Again, these categories remain and will be fundamentally unchanged retaining a high flexibility of being able to change employers freely, with a welcome addition of the ability to switch routes in the country, as set out in more detail below.
The statement on the points-based immigration system sets out some changes to the Global Talent route first opened on 20 February 2020, replacing Tier 1 (Exceptional Talent) category. This route is aimed at recognised or future leaders in science, engineering, humanities and digital technology amongst others. Applicants under this route must be endorsed by a recognised UK body, but once the permission is granted there is a high degree of flexibility with the holders being able to switch employers freely as well as work as self-employed. There is no limit on the numbers allowed under this route. The Government is to set up a cross-departmental Office for Talent which is to make it easier for leading scientists to work in the UK.
Start-up and innovator
These categories were first introduced in March 2019 to re-design the UK’s offering to the entrepreneurs who can demonstrate innovative, viable and scalable business ventures. Applicants need an endorsement from an approved Endorsing Body such as a Higher Education institution or business organisations experienced in supporting UK based entrepreneurs.
Perhaps in another welcome move, the Government has reduced the number of routes that require a migrant to leave the UK to apply. Under the current system the ‘switching’ rules have become overly complex and have been adding a significant cost and delay to the application process. Under the new points-based immigration system, the rules will allow most migrants to ‘switch’ between categories from within the UK, with limited exceptions of migrants on some short term visas.
Most of the charges applicable to any route will remain in place, such as application fees, the Immigration Skills Charge as well as Immigration Health Surcharge, subject to the usual increases.
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